Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Leaf Dissection

Yesterday we revealed a new set of quilts over at the Twelve by Twelve blog.  The theme was "chartreuse," and this piece above was my contribution.  When I finished it, I was happy with it -- and yet, I have some ongoing ambivalence about it.

I think it comes down to my mixed feelings about using realistic images in my quilts.  There's obviously something that draws me in that direction -- my literal mind, surely, but also a real pleasure in seeing something real depicted in fabric and thread.  I love the work of artists like Marcia Stein and Velda Newman
It's a direction I've taken often in our 12x12 challenges. (Here, and here, and here, for example.)

And, when I think about it, I enjoy developing the skill to translate an image into fabric and thread.  I think it was my favorite part of working on this Wisteria piece, actually -- the process of really looking, and fine-tuning the values and contrasts, getting the highlights and shadows in there, finding and adding bits of subtle color. So all of that felt good and I really did have a grand time making this.

At the same time, I have a sort of "So what?" reaction.  Perhaps the more realistic a piece is, the less appealing it is -- after all, why recreate a photograph when you have the photograph?  In some ways -- aside from the technical aspects -- creating the most realistic interpretation may be the easiest route.  Abstraction of an image -- capturing a sense of the image as well as the emotional tone and energy -- is a lot harder.  It's what I love love love in the work of Sue Benner and Patty Hawkins. Ah, well, it's clear I've got a long way to go if that's what I'm aiming for.  And, I suppose that's the question:  what AM I aiming for?

In any event, that's not a question I can answer today.  Instead, I'll show you a bit about how the wisteria leaves piece developed. I started with this base, hand-dyed green fabric fused to the lavender base.

From there, I started thread-sketching.  I discovered that what looks good up close may look too bland from a distance.  I'd add what seemed a dramatically contrasting thread -- say, red -- and then I'd step back and it would almost disappear.  At one point, thinking I was nearing the end, I got to this point:

But when it was up on my wall for a bit, it just didn't have the punch of the original photo.

Too little contrast, too many medium to light values.  Too much of the same color of green.  So I went back in with more thread, and a bit of shading with my beloved Neocolor II crayons, to darken things up.

I suppose I could have fiddled with this for a lot longer, adding some blue here, some yellow there.  But it was time to stop. 

I'm going to try to make myself head in a more abstract direction next time.  Oh, heck, it's all about having fun, right?  So I'll do whatever appeals at the moment. 


  1. Yes, it is about having fun! Your piece is beautiful and I like the questions you are asking yourself!

  2. I think it is amazing! I love the colors and the design. You did a marvelous job of capturing it. What about doing a series where you do photorealistic blocks and then a companion abstract block?

  3. I love it! I like working from a photograph for the technical aspects and challenge of trying to recreate it, but often am the same way when I'm finished, and am off to the next big adventure.

  4. I am going through the same dilemna, too - as a result I have decided on two very different quilts for my challenge pieces and I'll decide on the day which I like lol